Well-taken pictures can tell us who won and at what cost, who lost and its expense. They can capture all that needs be said about an event. Well-taken pictures are worth a thousand words and often more.
They preserve the past and sometimes predict the future… if only the latter were true at the racetrack!
You might have noticed that the photography at Canterbury Park has taken on a different, distinctive and even artistic quality this summer. You might have noticed that the colors are brighter, the angles more revealing and even the shading sometimes evocative.
The horses come to life, preserved for future generations in a compelling pose or restive moment. The jockeys are by turns happy, even gleeful, irritated, even angry, reflective, even expressionless.
Say hello to Shawn Coady, one of several members of a family born with spare film in their pockets, several lenses in their knapsacks and a love for picture-taking as it was intended.
Grandpa Jack, a transplanted Phoenician from Chicago, started out snapping pictures for the Arizona Republic in the late 1950s or early 1960s. Often on assignment at Turf Paradise, he struck up a friendship with the track’s publicity head. Welcome to picture-taking in the equine world and the start of a family industry covering tracks across the nation.
Shawn, his younger brothers Kevin and Kurtis, their father, Jeff, and their uncle, Jack, Jr. are all involved in the photo business at various tracks.
It started many years ago when Jeff and Jack, Sr. headed to Canada and Stampede Park. Shawn and his brothers were born there. “We have dual citizenship,” Shawn said before Saturday’s race card in Shakopee.
Shawn, 37, was maybe 14 years of age when the Coadys returned to Phoenix, around 1988 as he recalls.
His boyhood home and the school he attended, Thunderbird High School, were not much more than a mile from Turf Paradise.
His father had a home with horse property on Greenway Ave., room enough to board 20 horses or so.
Shawn’s grandfather took pictures that are racetrack classics, precursors to the talent his grandsons inherited and display in their work today.
A couple of examples of their grandfather’s work hang in Shawn’s office at Canterbury Park, Jackie Gleason standing near a jockey on the scales, Jackie Gleason surrounded by riders, some in silks others in street clothes, overhead telephone lines a dead giveaway to a different American era.
“I was lucky. I got to work with him all those years at Turf Paradise,” said Shawn, who was with his grandfather some 16 years or so up until his death three years ago.
Coady is unable to point to anything specific his grandfather told him about picture-taking, but it is very likely nothing needed to be said. Shawn was taking winner’s circle pictures by the time he was 16 and likely learned much of the craft, outside of classes he took, by osmosis, spending as much time as he did with a master craftsman.
For several years Coady handled the photography at Turf Paradise during the eight-month autumn-winter meet there and then headed to Yavapai Down in Prescott, a meet corresponding roughly to the one in Shakopee.
With Yavapai closed, he had a summer opening on the calendar and didn’t take long to make the decision to head north after being contacted by Canterbury Park.
“I had never been here before,” he said. “I had never even been to Minnesota.”
But several riders and trainers in Phoenix had.
“I talked to Scott Stevens, the Raricks (Red and Wade). I knew Doug Oliver had been here.”
He made the decision to head north within a couple of days. Originally, Virginia was on his calendar.
His opinion, now that he’s here?
“As far as the people, the management, the horsemen probably one of the best tracks I’ve been at,” he said.
That covers some territory.
For Shawn and the rest of the Coadys, the nation’s tracks are their studio.
Jeff, who is mostly at Oaklawn, is now at Colonial Park. Jack, jr., is at Prairie Meadows. Kurtis is at Calder. Kevin is on call to assist with undertakings of any kind at most racetracks.
Take a look at some of Shawn’s work on-line (www.coadyphotography.com). Some day, perhaps future children or grandchildren will hang copies of it in their offices.
This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.
Photo Courtesy of the Coady Family